Butterfly Sanctuary Tours (Available mid-November thru mid-March)
Butterfly Guide Joel has been going to see the butterflies since he was a toddler. His father and uncles worked as forest rangers on the Cerro Pelon reserve for over 30 years, and Joel has been leading tours to this reserve and others since 2011. His resume includes many years of working in customer service in English. Joel’s siblings Rogelio, Vicente and Ana and U.S.-born spouse Ellen also guide tours. Rogelio and Vicente spent many years in the U.S. where they learned rudimentary English. Ana studied English as part of her BA degree in tourism. During the off-season, Ana and Ellen give talks in the U.S. on monarch conservation issues. Our team members will help you with your horse (should you chose to take one), carry your food and water, and tell you as much as you would like to know about Mexico’s monarch butterfly migration and the history of the reserve. We let you set your own pace, so you can take as little or as much time as you like on your butterfly tour.
Our tours have been featured in the Milkweed Mission (Joel appears at 3:40), the Wichita news, the Belgian reality TV show Bartel’s Beard and in several forthcoming documentaries, including Pursuing the Monarchs, The Guardians and The Diana Kennedy Film Project.
There are four sanctuaries open to the public, which are described below. Tours are $75 USD per person for Cerro Pelon, and $100 USD for the other three sanctuaries, because of the transportation involved. Cerro Pelon tours begin at 10 am and usually end around 3 in the afternoon; other tours also begin at 10 am and finish a few hours later. All of the colonies are the same altitude, about 3,000 m, or almost 10,000 feet.
If you have just one day with us to see butterflies, reduce your carbon footprint and visit Cerro Pelon. (For an idea of what it can be like there, check out this video by Turk Pipkin from December 16, 2016.)
Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
The entry to this sanctuary is a 5 minute walk from our front door. Cerro Pelon is a historic site: it’s where scientists first confirmed that the butterflies that left Canada every year were the same ones that overwintered in the oyamel fir tree forests of the Sierra Madres. It is also, according to many butterfly enthusiasts and the Lonely Planet, the loveliest and most pristine of Mexico’s butterfly roosts. Tour price of $75 USD per adult includes entry fee, horse rental, bag lunch, and a bilingual guide. Kids under 18 are $50 USD each.
Cerro Pelon is the least developed and least visited of all of the sanctuaries. Going to see the butterflies here requires a moderate level of physical fitness, or the ability to tolerate riding on the back of a horse for an hour each way. The trail is mostly shady, winding through a mossy forest of fir, pine, cedar, and encino trees. Many say the lushness of the forest itself is worth the visit. If walking, some parts of the trail are level, and others quite steep. Note that the Cerro Pelon colony changes locations every season: visitors’ accounts from last season or the season before may not reflect what it’s like this year.
El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
When scientists figured out in the mid-seventies that the butterflies that arrived in Mexico every winter were the same ones that left Canada every fall, funding for butterfly tourism followed soon after. Joel’s grandfather was in charge of the ejido at the time, and for better or for worse, he refused tourism development funds, and the money went to the creation of El Rosario Biosphere reserve instead. Unlike the unmarked trail that winds up the mountain on Cerro Pelon, here you’ll find endless souvenir stalls, large tour groups, concrete steps, interpretive signs, and a lot more park rangers making sure you don’t get too close to the colony. In recent years, El Rosario has been the most populous of the butterflies’ overwintering sites. Seeing millions of butterflies flutter back and forth from an open meadow to their treetop clusters is truly impressive. The hike up to the colony is mostly on a paved trail and it takes 30-45 minutes each way, depending on your speed and acclimation. For a faster trip, horses are also available. El Rosario is an hour and a half drive from our B&B. Tour price of $100 USD each includes transportation, entry fee, bag lunch and an English-speaking guide, as well as a stopover to see the pyramids at San Felipe los Altzati. Children under 18 are $60 USD each.
Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
The trip from our place to Piedra Herrada takes you through the small farming villages of the State of Mexico on a road lined with fields of fruit trees and nopal cactuses. Then the road descends into the cosmopolitan colonial gem and weekend resort town, Valle de Bravo, which we visit on the way back. The sanctuary is another half hour down the road from here. The trail begins with a stone path with a separate trail for horses. The hike takes from 45 minutes to an hour each way, and is not so steep until the very end when you approach the colony. Often the colony is situated in such a way that you can get closer to the butterfly-laden trees of Piedra Herrada than you can at El Rosario or Sierra Chincua. Tour price of $100 USD per person includes transportation (at least 2 hours each way), entry fee, bag lunch, an English-speaking guide, and a stop-over in Valle de Bravo. Children under 18 are $60 USD each.
Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
After El Rosario, Sierra Chincua is the most visited butterfly sanctuary and usually the most accessible of all of the colonies (though that varies from season to season). Most of the ascent is done in car on a road that passes through the scenic village of Angangueo. The trail leading to the butterflies is relatively level and a 30-45 minute walk each way. Unlike the varied foliage on Cerro Pelon, the trees here are almost all oyamel fir trees, making for uniformly dark green vistas. Tour price of $100 USD per person includes transportation (2 hours each way from our place), entry fee, bag lunch and an English-speaking guide and a stopover in Angangueo. Children under 18 are $60 USD each.
Butterfly Day Trips from Mexico City
If you are in Mexico City and really want to see butterflies but don’t have time for an overnight stay, talk to us about arranging a day trip. Buses leave the Observatorio terminal (also called Poniente) in Mexico City for Zitácuaro every hour. Buy a “directo” ticket with the company called La Linea. The ride takes 2 hours.
Cerro Pelon. A Cerro Pelon day trip is $75 USD per person. Transportation to and from the Zitacuaro bus terminal to Macheros is separate. You will need to leave Mexico City super early (6 am) to reach us in time for breakfast and our 10 am tour departure. If you don’t linger too long, you will be back in the city in time for dinner.
El Rosario. For this tour we will meet you at the Zitacuaro terminal at 10:30 am (which means you’ll need to catch an 8 am bus). Tour prices include transport with pick up and drop off at the terminal, as well as sanctuary entry fee, horse rental (if so desired), lunch, and guide. Tours are $115 USD for a solo traveler, and $100 per person for groups of two people or more.